MANILA • The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia will launch joint patrols in piracy-plagued waters by May, Manila's Defence Secretary disclosed yesterday, after a wave of attacks that saw Islamist militants kidnapping and murdering foreigners.
All three countries agreed on such joint patrols in the Sulu Sea in August last year. Since then, the Abu Sayyaf, a kidnap-for-ransom network that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, has continued kidnapping sailors, including Malaysians and Indonesians, on fishing vessels and cargo barges.
Late last month, the militants murdered German national Jurgen Kantner, 70, five months after his yacht was found drifting off the southern Philippines with the body of his female companion, Ms Sabine Merz, who had been shot.
The Abu Sayyaf is holding 31 foreign and local hostages, including six Vietnamese seamen attacked on their cargo ship off the southern Philippines last month, according to Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
"We are inaugurating some time in April or May a joint patrol of the three nations in that area," he told a news conference yesterday. "(Vessels) cannot stray beyond that lane so that we can help protect them."
The Philippine defence chief said he had told the Vietnamese envoy to Manila last week to arm his nation's crewmen passing through the waters or coordinate with the Philippine authorities to avoid being kidnapped.
He added that President Rodrigo Duterte was "very interested" in ending the kidnapping problem.
Mr Duterte had asked China to help patrol the waters, citing Beijing's dispatch of a naval convoy to the Gulf of Aden in 2009 to protect Chinese ships from Somali pirates.
Mr Lorenzana said equipment to help fight the Abu Sayyaf, such as fast boats and drones, would be acquired as part of a military modernisation programme.
The Abu Sayyaf, set up with seed money from the Al-Qaeda network, has been kidnapping foreigners and locals for decades and holding them for ransom on its remote island strongholds in the southern Philippines.
Mr Lorenzana, who identified the Abu Sayyaf and other extremist groups as the Philippines' top security threat, said the kidnappings were "embarrassing to the whole world".
Maritime officials have warned of a "Somalia-type" situation if the attacks in the Sulu Sea are not addressed.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE